Jai Lennard is a photographer based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But more than that, he’s a prime raconteur. A connoisseur of sexual identity, one might say. There’s an ease to him that is non-threatening, no matter the conversation point, which makes it easy for him to plop himself down with a stranger and go from, “Hey, what’s up, I’m Jai,” to questions pertaining to that stranger’s boudoir. There isn’t anything schemey about this, it’s just his area of expertise. And honestly, it’s all that’s really on anyone’s mind anyway… I had the chance to sit down with Mr. Lennard to talk about the state of sex inAmerica, his upcoming project and what it takes to be an artist in 21st century NYC.
JAI LENNARD: A lot of people go to my website and immediately shutdown because they see sexuality and can’t get past that. I’m trying to get my work to an area where people can identify me with people who like to bring sexuality into public arenas.
How do you get there?
It’s about making the work, and making different styles of the work. Taking portraits is something I’ve always loved doing. But I love stories. It’s always about the story. I’m really interested in telling them through different mediums. Installation work is something I’ve always wanted to get involved with, and I have in the past, but it’s something I’m really trying to focus on now with my newest project.
What’s the newest project?
The main focus is about the online community of men who are in contact with women who sell their underwear. This is an old fetish, but I think the internet has allowed this community to grow in droves. It’s interesting to see how porn stars deal with their audience and fans because of it. Stars are interacting with their fans directly. Chatting. Sharing their stories and making a profit as well.
Through this idea is underwear. The new work I’m trying to make delves into this topic, in which I’m looking to create a forum in which these porn stars can put their underwear on display. An added fact is my interest in pheromones. The attraction these men have to the underwear. The attraction of where the underwear has been, but also the smell and scent of the women. I’m still trying to figure it all out, but my main goal is to put the scent on display, along with the underwear.
What do you think of the state of sexuality in America?
I think there’s a resurgence in sexuality right now, and the internet is a huge counterpart to this. Freedom of speech and the ability to assert our opinion on the web has allowed a variety of peoples and communities to put whatever they want out there. I was having a conversation the other day about Facebook, just in the last few months I’ve noticed friends of mine having a lack of regard for what they’re putting up there, especially regarding sex. In the beginning people were wary of what they were posting, but now it seems like people are using it as a personal blog. I woke up this past weekend to an image of one guy licking another guys ass in my news feed.
So how are you hoping to change people’s point of view on sexuality with your work?
I’m trying to bring as much information as I can to the public, through my art. The info I like to bring is usually from subdued communities. People who interact with themselves or their partners in ways that are considered abnormal. I think that the sexual norm is widening/breaking really quickly.
People don’t behave according to the same social rules and restrictions that they used to. We’re innately interested in what other people are doing with themselves and their partners. My ultimate goal is to get people talking. I think the lack of conversation in everyday life, about personal desire is disheartening. It can be harmful, and not only that, I feel that it’s harmful to the younger generations. I feel that kids are growing up in their families and communities unable to talk about sex in an informative way. We’re so afraid, we’re keeping info away from our children, but it’s out there and they’re finding it the wrong way: in movies and porn. We should be talking more about desire, needs, and wants as a community. I’m hoping people start taking an interest in the things people are doing out there and how it can be enjoyable in a safe way.
What does it take for an artist to live and survive in Manhattan in the 21st century?
You have to be a jack of all trades and then some. You have to be able to do your artwork and not only be excellent in your art, but you have to be able to do various other jobs that entail what it takes to make your art. Communication is key in New York. If you can’t direct people in a way that helps you get where you’re going you’ll fall flat. There are a million other people out there who can do what you’re doing. If you don’t have a unique point of view or relationships that will help you get where you want to be, the work will sit.
So how can we differentiate porn vs. art?
Context. I can take pornography and flip through a magazine and get aroused, but then I could take it, re-contextualize it by putting it on the walls of the gallery. But depending on how I put it up, and what it has to say, it can be art. I think Thomas Ruff is a great example of porn vs. Art. He’s taken stills from pornographic movies and blurred the images and enlarged them to nearly a hundred times their size, so you’re stuck in a room with an oversized image from a porn movie .You’re trying to stare at it, but you can’t because it’s too blurry. The intensity of the photos are really provocative. It’s porno but it’s art. It’s all about the story behind it.
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